Thursday, November 29, 2007

Week 14 - Musings on Musings of the Future of Education

Random inspiring thoughts that made me think:

Karen rightly says: "In OER, there are more discussions about licenses, standards, and metadata than there are about content, learners, and outcomes. I believe that this needs to change if the OER is to be successful in fulfilling its enormous potential" Agree fully....which leads to the points below:

Acidscorpio had a great point: "I feel the place [OER] will have the most impact is on the casual learner." Really, the casual learner is how the majority of us operate in our work following our formal education - meaning that it really impacts on society. It is funny how the casual learning experience is virtually ignored by the education field, except for some adult education fields looking at nonformal and informal learning. Should we be starting to track the casual learning experiences more? Does anyone know of work done in this area?

Antonio made me re-think about the role of the university - by comparing the "competency-based universities" with the "University-as-a-community". As I commented on his site: I mean, I look at my field/research, which is on how civil societies affect education policy in developing countries. How on earth could there be a "competency-based" test on this?? Knowledge growth is all about university-as-a-community!! His comments made me think deeper, and realize that competency-measures often are just replicating "banking knowledge" or "tabula rasa".

Elisa wrote about the cultural, legal and sustainability aspects required for the future of OERs. She mentions, in particular, that the Italians in this course have created a wiki to develop this further. It got me thinking: why the Italians? what is it about this community that has fostered this? what do other communities need to grow? Why is not a similar community forming in Germany or Bulgaria, or Korea...and what can we learn/borrow from the Italians to form these communities elsewhere??

Yu-chun spoke about accessing "free materials with high quality." I think it is important to remember that PUBLIC LIBRARIES have been around for a long time - offering similar services. It is not the access to free materials that makes OERs incredible, but the ability to borrow and mold materials easily into an alternate format. I loved her comments on the changes to teaching styles that OERs will entail.

Stian's beautiful point: "
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if universities didn’t have the role to sort people, but rather to make all students learn and improve their own skills and understanding, and the way you proved to a company that you were worth hiring as by the actual work that you had done." Agreed. Totally (except that young people with no experience would still be caught in the catch-22 - no experience = no work; no work = no experience). But wonder how it will be financed...I agree that it can be, with, as Stian argues, a shift of priorities. But how can we encourage that shift?

I really liked Thieme's musings (towards the end of his blog) about what the future would be like, staring with: "The shift from a teacher-centered university, with professors standing on a stage and transferring knowledge, towards a learner-centered university happened slowly but steadily, when experts are no longer able to transfer knowledge any better than high quality video and multimedia learning materials." Is that really the only role of the prof?? to transfer knowledge??

One final comment: I really like the idea of having Open Ed, and all kinds of resources online - and am so happy that opportunities are arising. But does anyone else just get absolutely SICK OF BEING ON THE COMPUTER??? My job requires me to spend most of the day writing and researching online. It worries me that the future will see even more of this. I enjoy my job. But sometimes I much prefer a good book, a good phone call, a good old-fashioned face-to-face interaction. I find that sometimes I "trib" much better in these environments. Does anyone else agree??

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Week 13: Future of OERs

A Changing Culture of Assessment

OER proponents tend to focus on the great aspect of opening up higher education to all people - regardless of their ability to afford university. I think this is the third great unlocking of knowledge for the average person (the first was the printing press, the second was free mandatory mass basic education). This is WONDERFUL! I won't dispute it. But not enough attention has been paid to other subtle aspects of why people go to university, get degrees, are assessed.

Wiley spells out one of the results of the new wave of 'tribs' peeps, who will post content, comment on it, mash-it-up, post tests, be bored in lectures where they've already read the content online, etc. And suggests that Western Governors University, which grants credits based on competency, instead of on attendance in class, etc., will be one new way of the higher ed. Funny, but that's what the higher ed system in France has been doing for years. (what about Italy, Norway???)

However, the French aren't afraid to fail people, either. In my understanding as a comparative educationalist, this is part of the reason why the French can offer free higher education in its current form - because they make it darn hard to stay in Uni (the competency exams and essays are a form of weeding people out). In contrast, it seems politically unacceptable for a prof in the US or Canada to fail the majority of its students.

In fact, many scholars over the years have argued - what's the actual purpose of exams? And which exams test actual knowledge, versus those who test your ability to strategize in tests. Any TOEFL teacher knows that you don't actually teach the content, but rather the skill of taking the test, making educated guesses, and ignoring questions that are hard work, but worth the same value. If OER degrees led to a "test your knowledge"environment - what would they actually be testing?

Of course, this begs the question: What's the purpose of a degree?? How much of its function is as a weeding tool for employers? My experience in grad school tells me there is so much more to a degree than simply knowing the content of courses. There is still much to be gained in interactions with other students, profs, colleagues - where dialogue can take place. OERs have great potential to open this dialogue, no doubt. But is this the purpose of the degree?? As an educator, I'd say yes. As an economist, businesswoman...?? Where do these aspects fit into higher learning? Even if we don't want them to, they do...

Is there such a thing as too much participation? too many tribs?

The greatest part of Web2.0 is the realization of the ordinary person that they can contribute something. That the world is not a static place where changes are only made by experts, but that ordinary people can and do change the course of history, technology, life. everyday.

This aspect of OER jives with the idea of participatory learning - that students can and should contribute to discussions, as a way to learn; that the student is not a blank slate in which to 'bank' knowledge. However, cautions on participatory learning are necessary:

I was part of a grad class on Popular Education a few years ago. Great prof - expert in his field, but fully into allowing the students to discuss what they were learning, to the extent that we didn't hear a lot from him. Two dynamics quickly emerged in this class:
1) Some students felt they had more of a right to speak, and dominated the discussion. (Whether this was due to socio-economic factors or their personality, i don't know.)
2) I got really sick of hearing fellow students opinions on the matters - because frankly, it meant that I didn't get to hear the prof. Not that the prof was an infallible demi-god of knowledge. But rather, here was a man who had spent years and years reading and discussing on this body of practice, and didn't have fleeting opinions of the matter, but had thought long and hard about it. (Just like Wiley has for this OER class). And this insight wasn't passed on to me because the time was dominated by a cacophony of quickly thought-out opines on the matter.

I can see the same thing happening in OERs. I think Wiley has done a good job of allowing us to hear his voice, because a good part of our required readings are his thoughts. These readings serve almost as lectures, which is really cool. However, how can we help foster real dialogues in OER courses? If we can, how do we ensure that some students aren't silenced by the domineering of others? Can we?

Should there be a difference between knowledge and opinion? OER content may make this distinction, but I'm not convinced OER courses will...

Week 12: Reflections on OERs

I am just about to write my last post - but realized that I needed to go back and put down my thoughts about other people's blogs on Week 12.

I think part of the reason why I was late on this post, as opposed to the others, is that I really found the content boring. It was contrasting Learning Objects with OERs. As David Wiley pointed out, my experience was very much like the Mr. Miyagi lesson - I eventually realized why it was important to learn and understand the dieing phenomena of Learning Objects - I appreciate what we can learn from them - but that doesn't make it any less boring.

However, I did learn some important things from my colleagues:

1. I liked Jennifer Maddrell's conception of OERs as the next iteration of LOs - as if it is perhaps on a continuum. As usual, her charts are something to make me think visually - I'm glad she posts them, and this one, comparing OER and LO in particular. In many ways, comparing the two made me think again of the differences between CC or GNU licences and regular copyright. The parallels in open and closed spaces are apparent.

2. I also liked Alessandro's example of a Learning Object. It was an audio recording in which he says "this is a learning object" - how very true. He mentioned that it was the first time he had read something about pedagogy in the course. I agree with him. Although, having finished a Masters degree in Education, I'm amazed at how little we actually look at pedagogy. It seems to be almost a lost art. It got me thinking about how John Dewey's style of learning - being learner-centered - could be manifested in one way through OER. However, there are still such limitations of any of these technologies on people's learning, without having a resource there to tutor or guide. I agree with Alessandro whole-heartedly:
I believe - strongly believe - that the pedagogical aspect is far more important than the object itself...We as teacher are not interested in objects - which are in themselves static (whatever small they can be), we as teacher are interested in processes (of learning) and relationships. Education is all about relationships and the processes of learning.
3. Karen and I have similar streams of thought about the OER movement in general. It has such great potential, but at the moment:
The bottom line is that there is too much focus on structure, technology, and systems and not enough attention on learning, learners, and content.
Perhaps this was the same mistake as with LOs - its root is partially in the fact that OERs are still being technically designed - by designers, not necessarily practitioners or end-users. But that means there is a role for people such as myself, who are not interested in the design aspect - but rather who can focus the attention on the learners. Perhaps an upcoming PhD??

4. Rob Barton seemed to take the above thought (at least in my mind), and apply some practical thoughts to it:
de Souza & Preece (2004) point out two components by which an online community can be assessed: sociability (people, purposes, and policies) and usability (software). In their framework, these two components have to be aligned to produce success. Any community (whether online, offline, or a hybrid) will have sociability factors that change as the people (or purposes or policies) in the community change. For any online community, the software has to work with those people, purpose, and policies. They continue on to discuss Semiotics and HCI and how communication takes place among users and designers. The important part, I thought, was that everyone is communicating all the time, but the message doesn't always get across how we expect it.

5. Antonio spoke about the fact that he was just commenting on others blogs, and then keeping track of the comments, using . Although I have decided not to do it this way, it got me thinking about whether his method was in itself an OER or a Learning Object? and where does the learning start or stop?

I have read many of the other blogs, but found that the majority of us have more provided synopses of our readings. Although different nuances came out, I found that I actually learnt the most when aspects outside of the readings were brought into the discussion. Otherwise, I had very little to think about or comment on. I wonder how much this is key to the way that we interact in the classroom - and if this is perhaps what truly provides the enrichment.

I'll leave this as it is for today - as I want to get going on the final blog.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wk 11: Learning Objects vs. Open Education Resources

I was trying to figure out why I needed to learn about a technology that already seems to be dying, when I don't know enough about the new up-coming stuff like Open Education Resources (OERs). Until I hit David Wiley's lecture comparing the two - and then it became perfectly clear. We learn about Learning Objects (LOs) because they show us the mistakes to avoid and the path to take for OERs.

It also made me realize the areas that OER writers/creators should probably pay more attention to - see end of blog.

Mistakes Learning Object creators made that we should avoid:
  • take-over of the engineers - who focused "reuse" on tech. compatibility, not on cultural or contextual or pedagogical reuse.
  • trying to constrain people to use a certain system - code words - repository etc.
  • making people use the same widgets without being able to adapt (i.e. modify and reuse)
  • keep things copyrighted, but try to get permission. But problems of a) so protected that you can't reuse, and b) obtaining permission is expensive.
What is different between LOs and OERs - i.e. why OERs may be the way forward:
  • OPEN, OPEN, OPEN. As David makes clear in his lecture, if you wanted a student to reference a past course that was online, and they didn't have access to the Learning Management System, there was no way of building on that past strength! Translation is difficult without the ability to modify!
  • Look at what people are already using, and build on it - e.g. Google, RSS, Blogs, Tags.
  • Encourage Creative Changes and Localization of Resources.
So it made me think of other areas where OERs still need to improve:
  • isolation - still a big problem - the early part of this course is an example of this.
  • access - there is still a significant infrastructure that only allows some people the freedom to access the Internet. E.g. there are several IT programmes in Mongolia and Tanzania - but both have large areas that suffer from a lack of electricity, or sporadic power-shedding. It's hard to operate a server to access the Internet when the power goes out. One great and reputable education-focused IT NGO in Tanzania - "TanEdu" - was/is suffering that problem as it didn't have the resources to buy a generator to keep its computers running for the students it had sponsored.
  • access - class/income problem. Compare these Stats in Canada - from 2003 (the more recent ones I can't access without paying - sorry!! Stats, compiled by governments, one thing I think should be opened!!):
Nearly 77% of households with someone with a university degree were connected from home. In contrast, only about 12% of households in which the highest level of educational attainment was less than high school were connected from home. (StatsCan 2003)
These structural and infrastructural problems shouldn't be forgotten - and yet they don't seem to be in the OER literature much. I know that higher ed. concentrates without really realizing it on groups that have access and those that have more social capital - but if we really are going to look at OERs and the "right to education" as Tomasevski defines it (in articles #1 and #2 of this class) - then OER scholars really should be addressing these other issues as well.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Week 10: Connecting the dots on book reviews

First, I'd like to say that I'm so glad we are now reading each other's blogs and posting our thoughts. I cannot stress enough how great it was to not only read others posts on the different books (I now feel I have a grasp of those books!), but also to see others comment on mine - adding ideas I hadn't thought of. Thank you!!

Second, I found it interesting that many of us commented on similar books. While other books weren't reviewed at all! I wonder if it is because the most popular books reviewed were available free online? (Here's who has done what - hopefully useful to others - sorry if I've missed any!)

Books Reviewed

Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm (Benkler)
Commented on by: Yu Chun, Anton, Catia, Alessandro, Jon

Free Culture (Lessig)
Commented on by: Elisa, Mela, Greg

The World Is Flat (Updated and Expanded): A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (Friedman)
Commented on by: Rob, Jennifer

Wikinomics (Tapscott, Williams)
Commented on by:
Andreas, Stian

The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Easterly)
Commented on by: Erik, Me (Megan)

The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (Easterly)
Commented on by: Silvana

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (Lessig)
Commented on by:

Random Collection of Others Thoughts

Although not cohesively glued together yet - this is what caught my imagination this week while reading other's blogs.

1. Localization, not sustainability?

Dave Wiley commented on my blog last week, when I was writing about the importance of avoiding generic blueprint OERs, and targeting the needs of specific groups of learners. He writes:
This extends a drum I've been beating a lot lately - it's not sustainability, but localization that is the final frontier of open education, and "only a local can localize OER."
I hadn't thought of it in terms of a trade-off between sustainability and localization, but I think he is right in one sense - at the moment, projects will be most sustainable if they are localized. Rob also comments on this point - (quoting Friedman and Joel Cawley of IBM) saying that the businesses that will survive are the ones that localize. When OERs become more popular in the future, perhaps then the goal will be a mass audience, but I don't think it will happen soon.

Greg connected this point to the gap between rich and poor:
Most OER come from rich and powerful places of the world because that is who has the money and other resources to create them. Localization is very important to help alleviate this concern.
He also makes an intriguing point, which I agree with whole-heartedly - note: paraphrased:
It seems to me that most educational materials have one voice. The voice of the creator. But in the actual instruction does open ed allow the few to speak for the many, or does it give opportunity for self-expression [among all - learners & teachers]? ... Open ed needs to take a hard look at what voice is speaking in its resources and whether students who are participating in a class, or teachers using open ed materials can be heard.
2. Connecting Localization to Commons-based peer production

So, if localization is where it is at, how does this connect to finding the right people, who are addressing their own specific educational problems, to co-create something that benefits the community?

Alessandro and Anton both deal with this problem, I think. After explaining what "Coase's Penguin" means (thank you for that!), Anton quotes Benkler, in that:
the widely distributed model of information production will better identify who is the best person to produce a specific component of a project.
However, Alessandro comments on the importance of having the participants as active learners. He describes two projects, one which failed because the participants "hadn't switched from the role of mere-learner to the role of learner-for-letting-others-learn". Perhaps this will change as people get more familiar with web2.0 - where participation is the norm? He makes a mind-catching distinction between top-down and bottom-up projects, though - stating that:
If you say peer, you cannot mean pear!
Jon echoes this point, stating that "Projects can deter users from contributing."

It seems as though Friedman and Benkler have hit upon the same point - that the best person for the job will be self-identified in their own interest. Jennifer, commenting on Friedman, states:
Instead of thinking of a global community "collaborating" on an "answer", Friedman describes a network of individuals connecting around common interests. In contrast, collaboration implies members of a group working towards a single goal. However, in the communities Friedman describes, each person bring individual contributions to the network based on individual needs and interests. While they may interact and in turn support each other, they are not necessarily focused on achievement of the same goal or for a specific outside audience.
Very cool, that's all I have to say!

3. Political Opportunity Structures - Not Constraints

Karen wrote very eloquently on Lessig's model of four constraints that regulate behavior (below). She showed how each of the four has important implications for OER.My one comment on this comes from the Social Movement and Transnational Advocacy Network literature.

Instead of looking at these as four constraints - they can be looked at as political opportunity structures (See K. Sikkink's work).
Social movements frequently look at the constraints around them and try to push against these constraints - for example, in the area of law by pushing for new laws concerning freedom of expression, or the rights of civil society groups, etc. In the area of norms, they might try to push the way people see women (suffrage movement), or slavery, or marginalized groups. By pushing the boundaries of the current "constraints", they create pockets of resistance, and little openings from which to expand their ability to act.